Sunday, 19 April 2015

Gavin Bryars - Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet

I have a real love for the work of the composer Gavin Bryars and there are at least two of his compositions that I would consider to be essential to any self respecting record collection.  I'll share the second with you another time but first we should have a look (and listen) to this singularly beautiful, bewitching and harrowing piece of music.

'Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet' is the title of a number of pieces of music based around a 13 bar loop of a recording of a homeless man in London singing the song of the same name.

Jesus' blood never failed me yet
Never failed me yet
Jesus' blood never failed me yet
There's one thing I know
For he loves me so

I'll let Bryars explain the origin of the recording in this extract from his website...

'In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song - sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads - and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet". This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.

When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song - 13 bars in length - formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism.'

The eventual release of the recording featured several different versions of the song of differing lengths and featuring different accompanying instruments including two versions which feature additional vocals from Tom Waits.

The version I've included here is the longest and, for me, the most gut wrenchingly poignant of them all.

Now, at 26 minutes in length and featuring a vocal line of the same 13 bars repeated over and over again with an orchestral string section slowly building behind him, I'm aware that this isn't going to be to everyones taste but for me it's simply beautiful.

Buy it here - Bryars: The Sinking of the Titanic: Jesus's Blood Never Failed Me Yet - or listen below.

Find a quiet place, relax and enjoy.


  1. Thank you Gavin & Wyrd Britain.I've been seeking this most sublime & beautiful piece of music for 15 years or more...AND YOU DID IT!!!Again my eternal thanks to you all.

    1. :) My pleasure Nigel. glad to be of service.

  2. Also thank you to Ian Holloway(great name!)

  3. The original issue, along with all the Obscure Records catalogue, can be downloaded from UbuWeb: